Every year at the Preakness, all eyes are on the Kentucky Derby winner, with the hope and expectation that the champion there can win at Pimlico to take the necessary second step toward winning the Triple Crown. Two weeks ago, Justify romped to a decisive victory in Kentucky. Would it happen again in muddy, foggy Maryland?
The answer: absolutely. Justify won by half a length in 1:55.93, and now heads to the Belmont Stakes on June 9 with a chance to win the Triple Crown. Bravazo finished second; Tenfold took third.
“It was a hard race today on him, probably the hardest race he’s had, but he’s getting fit,” trainer Bob Baffer said after.
The 143rd Run for the Black-Eyed Susans (it’s a flower) took place on a sloppy, fog-enshrouded track not unlike the one Justify romped at in Kentucky. Justify ran the race at 2-5 odds, with only Good Magic coming anywhere close at 7-2. No other horse was under double-digit odds; Bravazo went off at 15-1, and Tenfold was 25-1. It was an unfamiliar field for Justify; only four horses from the Kentucky Derby field were in the mix at Pimlico.
Justify started from the seventh gate at Churchill Downs, and started from the same gate Saturday at Pimlico, albeit with one notable difference: where there were 20 horses in the field in Kentucky, there were only eight racing on Saturday. Justify was also the latest in a long line of Baffert-trained horses to run the Preakness; Baffert horses had won the race six times coming into Saturday, and more importantly for Justify’s odds, Baffert’s four Kentucky Derby-winning horses had also won the Preakness.
Justify left the gate cleanly and broke out in the lead before the first turn. Good Magic held the inside line heading into the backstretch, but Justify kept the lead by a nose. The two horses kept a solid, not spectacular, pace through the back stretch, running neck and neck as they hit the far turn. Good Magic nudged a head in front in the turn, but Justify broke out in the final stretch and managed to win by half a length. It wasn’t a dominating win, but it was a victory nonetheless.
“He got a little tired,” jockey Mike Smith said. “This was the hardest race he’s had. … But he was also waiting on competition.”
The Preakness sets the stage for a Triple Crown bid. American Pharaoh won three years ago, but before that, it had been more than a generation, 37 years, since Affirmed had won the Triple Crown. Twenty-three horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but failed to bring home the Triple Crown. And three weeks from now, Justify will have the chance to buck those odds and join the illustrious ranks of Triple Crown winners.
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